Chronicles Insight - Quinn's Immigration Scheme

Monday, 24 August, 2020
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Australia’s Irish diaspora is a thriving and proud group of people whose roots date all the way back to the 18th century. Though we have often heard tales of the Irish who were sent to Australia against their will during the years of penal transportation, there is less spoken of the Irish who chose to leave Ireland for a new life in a far off country. These relocations were made possible by the implementation of a number of migration schemes both in Australia and at home in Ireland. Here we have outlined the origins of one such scheme in Queensland and the rocky start to which it got off. 

Chronicles Insight - Quinn's Immigration Scheme

The First Bishop of Brisbane

James Quinn was born in Rathbane, County Kildare on the 17th of March 1819. As a young man he entered into a life in the priesthood and was ordained in Rome on the feast of the Assumption in 1846. A mere 13 years later he rose to the rank of Bishop and was granted the newly formed diocese of Brisbane. Bishop Quinn made the long, arduous journey to Queensland, a place which would become his home for the rest of his days. 

Soon after arriving in Brisbane, Bishop Quinn made a proposal to the government that a scheme of assisted migration should be established to help the Irish people escape their lives of poverty and starvation and come to Brisbane where they could make a fresh start. His proposal was rejected, largely due to the opposition of local residents who did not want to see Brisbane become a colony. 

The Queensland Immigration Scheme

Not deterred by this set back, Bishop Quinn set about establishing his own organisation, the Queensland Immigration Scheme. He outlined the objectives of the QIS as follows;

  • To alleviate the stress prevailing in Ireland

  • To procure for this colony a population capable of demand for labour in it

  • To secure for single females immigrating to this colony sufficient protection, which was not secured to them under any existing system of immigration

The scheme was extremely popular. It ran for a total of three years and in this time 13 ships transported some 4,000 Irish immigrants to their new lives in Brisbane. The following ships were used in the QIS;

The Erin-go-Bragh, The Chatsworth, The Maryborough, The Prince Consort, The Duke of Newcastle, The Wanata, The Golden City, The Queen of the Colonies, The Hanna More, The Golden Dream, The Beejapore, The Fiery Star, and The Sunda. 

There must be a Priest onboard

Father Patrick Dunne of Daingean County Offaly made the journey to Australia in 1850 where he was the first priest on the Ballarat Goldfields. He was quick to become involved in Bishop Quinn’s Immigration Scheme. His role was an extremely difficult and important one. He was tasked with accompanying the Irish immigrants on their journey and tending to their spiritual needs along the way. Though for many people the thought of embarking upon such a voyage even once was enough to deter them, Father Dunne made the difficult journey no less than six times. With the conditions aboard the ships being so poor, the passengers were doubtless extremely grateful to have a priest on hand to comfort the frightened and the sick through prayer and to administer the last rites should the need arise.

Maiden Voyage

The first voyage of the QIS was undertaken by The Erin-go-Bragh. The ship departed from Cobh in County Cork, then called Queenstown, on the 7th of February 1862. From there the ship sailed to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, then onward to Hobart Town Tasmania, before finally docking in Moreton Bay, Queensland Australia. 

Though no voyage from Ireland to Australia was without its hardships, the first journey of The Erin-go-Bragh was particularly marked by adversity. In the 19th century, the expected travel time between these two countries was generally between 12 and 13 weeks. However The Erin-go-Bragh was plagued by poor weather conditions. At times the wind was so calm that they were held at a standstill, and at other times the headwinds were so strong that it was a battle to sail against them. This meant that an already arduous journey was lengthened to an agonising 25 weeks. During this time the ship also sprung a leak which had to be constantly pumped until their arrival in Queensland. The misery on board was further exacerbated by the prevalence of disease, and it is recorded that no less than fifty four passengers lost their lives on the voyage. 

Distressed but not deterred

Though the journey had undoubtedly been traumatic for the passengers, it did not deter them from encouraging their family back home in Ireland to join them in their new home. Henry Dunne and his wife Anne had suffered more than most on the voyage of The Erin-go-Bragh having lost an infant daughter on the way. Yet even though they had endured such tragedy and turmoil, they still encouraged their family to follow them as soon as they could. Anne’s brother Jeremiah and his wife Bridget (also Henry’s sister) did not hesitate in booking passage and were soon on their way to Australia, though their voyage on The Sunda was far less eventful. Jeremiah’s and Anne’s other sister Catherine also made the journey some time later. The three families all settled close to one another in the region of Veresdale and became pioneers of the area. 

A Legacy of Immigration

According to the most recent census information, just over half a million people in Queensland claim Irish ancestry today. For many, their Irish roots date back to the mid 1800’s when staying in Ireland meant enduring unimaginable suffering through starvation, poverty, and persecution. The opportunity to immigrate must have seemed like a golden ticket to salvation. It is little wonder then, that Bishop Quinn’s Queensland Immigration Scheme was so popular and successful. There are many Irish families in Queensland today who may have died out generations ago were it not for the ingenuity of the QIS and the clergymen who helped to manage it. 

This insight has been created with thanks to IrelandXO member, James Tolhurst for the contribution of his research.


Click on the images to learn more about the entries that inspired this Chronicles Insight.

Voyage Erin Go Brath 1862

Erin Go Brath


James Quinn 1819

James Quinn


Father Patrick Dunne 1818

Patrick Dunne


Jeremiah Grehan 1836

Jeremiah Grehan


Bridget Brumbaugh 1842

Bridget Susannah Brumbaugh


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